Loudoun’s first Black judge was celebrated at a formal investiture ceremony packed with friends, family and other judge in the old Loudoun County courthouse on Friday.
Lorrie Sinclair Taylor, a daughter of Jamaican immigrants, became the first Black judge in Loudoun history when the General Assembly elected her to District Court bench in 2020. Although she has been hearing cases since then, her formal investiture ceremony waited until Aug. 13, and was the kind of packed celebration unthinkable a year ago at the height of the pandemic.
She was welcomed to the judge’s bench by an assembly of judges that included her colleagues from the Loudoun courts, state Supreme Court Justice William C. Mims, Judge Reba Page of the U.S. Armed Services Board of Contract Appeals speaking on behalf of the National Judicial College, and retired Judge Angela Roberts, the first Black woman appointed to the bench in Virginia.
As Loudoun NAACP President Michelle Thomas pointed out, it was a celebration that at times felt like a church service, with prayer and song.
She drew a line from Sinclair Taylor’s appointment to the history of Black people fighting for equality in Loudoun courts, like pioneering civil rights attorney Charles Hamilton Houston. The first special counsel for the national NAACP and a former dean of Howard University Law School, Houston played an important role in breaking down Jim Crow laws such as school segregation. Houston also led an all-Black legal team in fighting an important case in the Loudoun County courthouse, sparing a Black man the death penalty and laying the groundwork for future cases.
“Lorrie, you may be the first, but you won’t be the last,” Thomas said. “There are some babies out here that will see this video, there are some babies out here that will encounter you in the Loudoun streets, there are some babies that will shake your hand in church and understand that because you did it, that they can do it.
Thomas recalled a battle to win Sinclair Taylor’s seat.
“It wasn’t as easily said as done. There were some back doors that we had to close,” she said. “There were some loopholes that we had to close, and so we needed the help of our legislators.”
Two such legislators, state Sen. Jennifer B. Boysko (D-33) and Rep. Jennifer Wexton (D-VA-10) were also in attendance. Wexton, an attorney, recalled starting work in the Loudoun Commonwealth’s Attorney’s office on the same day as Sinclair Taylor in 2001.
“From day one, I knew that Lorrie was something special. I mean, she really, really was,” Wexton said. “She was always the most prepared in court. She was always the hardest working. She was thoughtful and deliberate, and so, so fair as a prosecutor, and I know that you’ll be the same as a judge.”
Sinclair Taylor’s nephew Brendan Hammond, who was among the many family members who traveled from across the country, Canada and Jamaica to attend the ceremony, also spoke. He recalled growing up visiting his aunt.
“I just saw her passion for everything she did, her zeal for just every single thing she did,” Hammond said.
Sinclair recalled her own path through Loudoun’s legal community.
“If statistics and naysayers could dictate someone’s path, I would not be here,” Sinclair Taylor said. “I stand here because God has blessed me.”
Sinclair Taylor recalled coming to work under then-Loudoun Commonwealth’s Attorney Robert Anderson, and going on to work under his successor, now-Judge James Plowman. She also recalled being functionally homeless during that time, and two friends taking her in—her future law partners, Buta Biberaj and Matthew Snow. Now, all three partners at the former Leesburg law firm of Biberaj, Snow & Sinclair have taken public office, Snow as another District Court judge and Biberaj as the Loudoun Commonwealth’s Attorney.
“Today I stand before you asking you to trust me—trust me knowing that I want nothing more than to serve the people of Loudoun County,” Sinclair Taylor said. “Service has been ingrained in me since I was a child. My mother was a woman of service. We didn’t have much, but whatever she had, we shared. She taught me how to serve the community, serve others, and whatever you have was enough to share.”